In addition, alumna Susan Juster Viner, donated antique materia medica books for the Eleanor Krohn Herrmann Reading Room. She also has given us one-of-a-kind manuscript material: her binder of course notes from her nursing courses in the late 1950s and early 60s and two papers (patient case reports) from her time as a student.
These archival materials constitute what historians and archivists call ephemera, material culture that most people do not think of as significant and so they discard them. However, for the historian, even more than official documents or publications, these ephemera help us understand the lived experiences of real people.
Over thirty archival boxes, including personal papers of Josephine Dolan and documents from the School of Nursing, have been transferred across campus to Archives and Special Collections in the Dodd Center on the UConn Storrs campus.
This archival material represents decades of work by Professor Dolan and by the School of Nursing.
Kept in the climate controlled storage room of the Dolan Collection in Storrs Hall, these archival materials had been organized by former curator, Dr. Jennifer Casavant Telford.
However, both the visibility and the access to the collection were limited, so current curator Dr. Thomas Lawrence Long had been in discussions with Betsy Pittman, university archivist and archivist for the nursing history collection.
During the spring 2018 semester senior nursing students in NURS 4265, Nursing’s Past as Prologue, had been assigned a team project by Dr. Long: each of over 30 teams inventoried one box assigned to it in the creation of a finding aid for the library. This will provide the foundation for Archives and Special Collections’ online catalog entry for the material.
In its new home, these materials can be found in a public online open access catalog and available to researchers visiting the reading room in the Dodd Center.
Students in Nursing’s Past as Prologue (a course required of seniors) have studied artifacts and archival materials from the Dolan Collection. In association with our current exhibit, Pictures of Nursing: The Zwerdling Postcard Collection, we present alumna Selina Jose’s report on a stamp album that collections philatelic items related to nursing and medicine, currently on display in the Widmer Atrium.
Among the treasures of the Dolan Collection is an autograph album prepared for a British World War I nurse by her patients. An undergraduate in Nursing’s Past as Prologue prepared this blog post for the centennial anniversary of America’s entry into the war.
The UConn School of Nursing’s permanent exhibit case honoring founding dean Carolyn Ladd Widmer has been renovated for the 75th anniversary.
It features text from Widmer, her sons, and her grandson —
“But over the years, earlier in particular, what would amaze me, and this was unexpected but then it became commonplace for me, those women from the early years would come up to me and they’d each have different stories. But almost to a person, they’d say, ‘Mike, your mother changed my life. Your mother changed my life.’ And then they’d tell me their story. Dozens. And if dozens have told me, there are hundreds if not thousands of women out there (because it was mostly women in those days) whose lives were changed because of her. And I think that’s one of her great legacies, which can get lost around the institution and the academics, and that I think was a huge motivation for her.” Michael Widmer, 2015.
“It wasn’t the easiest job in the world for a single mother. On the one hand, someone who insisted on putting hot meals three times a day in front of my brother and me and attending to her motherly duties, which I think she found very satisfying, fulfilling to herself. On the other hand, trying to establish a school of nursing that would do all of those things in the way that the profession of nursing was developing in those years, which of course for many professional nurses meant that you had to itemize all of those skills. And the things a nurse would need to know how to do but might neglect or at least not put in first place, the humanistic ones.” Eric Widmer, 2015.
“My late grandmother Carolyn Ladd Widmer was a lifelong traveler, and spent long stretches of her life in South America and Lebanon, working in public health and education. She seemed to never stop learning, and her overflowing rooms were another early source of inspiration. At some point in adolescence, I discovered that her grandfather Cyrus Hamlin was the founder of Robert College in Istanbul, a factoid that escaped much notice from me until I turned to the writing of this book. . . . I have benefited greatly from this strangely insistent web of international influences.” Historian Ted Widmer, Ark of the Liberties: America and the World, 2008.
“When Grandfather asked the chief physician [at the hospital in Scutari where Florence Nightingale worked] why the patients could not have clean clothing, he was told that no satisfactory laundry facilities had been found, that the clothing was too filthy to be cleaned anyway, and that ‘every man had better mind his own business.’ ‘I thought,’ says the missionary, ‘that in such a scene of suffering . . . it was my “own business” to mitigate it.’” Carolyn Ladd Widmer, “Grandfather and Florence Nightingale,” American Journal of Nursing, 1955.
“Such is the spirit and such are the problems of the housewife nurses who are again taking up active duty. It is an unquenchable spirit, but alone it cannot solve all of the problems which these nurses are facing. Inasmuch as last year it was my pleasure and privilege to teach refresher courses to inactive graduate nurses and since I am myself the mother of two small children, I have had some contact with these difficulties. When at the beginning of one class hour I started to take my lesson plan from its folder (which I had had at home the night before) and drew forth instead The Tale of Peter Rabbit, the class realized that they were not alone in finding it difficult always to keep home and hospital from encroaching on each other.” Carolyn Ladd Widmer, “The Housewife Re-enters Nursing,” American Journal of Nursing, 1943.
Newly installed in the Widmer Wing atrium in time for the start of the new academic year are exhibits in two vitrines used as spaces for changing exhibits.
Facing the front of the atrium is an exhibit devoted to the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I (in 1917) and nurses’ service in that war. Included are books from the Dolan Collection, a period photo album of nurses and their patients, an English nurse’s autograph album signed by her French patients, and a three-page interview with American nurse Pauline McVey (the sister of the maternal grandfather of Dr. Thomas Lawrence Long, curator).
Facing the rear of the atrium is an exhibit honoring nurses’ involvement in the AIDS epidemic. AIDS35 marks the 35th anniversary of the first published reports of the syndrome, marked by exhibits in UConn’s Archives and Special Collections and the Benton Museum, as well as the School of Nursing. Items in this display come from the Dolan Collection, supplemented by items on loan from doctoral student Seja Jackson, MS, RN, who has been involved in AIDS care for 30 years.
The work of many hands this summer has involved making more accessible the Josephine A. Dolan Collection’s books and other published items housed in the Eleanor Krohn Herrmann Reading Room (in the Widmer Wing of Storrs Hall on the UConn Storrs campus).
School of Nursing staff member Lisa Soder and one of her student workers sorted the collection (into three groups, items published before 1900, items published between 1900 and 1940, and items published after 1940 [i.e., during the history of the School]).
University Archivist Betsy Pittman and School of Nursing Librarian Val Banfi then culled the collection in order to determine historical value, relevance, and focus. Many books have been deaccessioned, some sent to UConn’s Archives and Special Collections, others to Babbidge Library.
The remaining books have been returned to the Herrmann Reading Room’s lower cabinets (along three walls of the room) and organized thematically.
Starting to your left as you enter the room:
Cabinets 1, 2, and 3: Aesthetic Ways of Knowing (art, literature, popular culture, including a complete set of the Cherry Ames novels donated by alumni)
Cabinets 3, 4, 5, and 6: Personal Ways of Knowing (biography, memoir, essays, personal writing, including books by and about Florence Nightingale and Virginia Henderson)
Cabinets 7 and 8: Early Popular Health and Narratives (18th, 19th, and early 20th century)
Cabinets 8 and 9: Nursing Fundamentals
Cabinet 9: Nursing Essentials; Anatomy and Physiology; Medical/Surgical Nursing; Home Care; ENT Care
Cabinet 10: Mental Health Nursing; Public Health Nursing; Professional Issues; Nursing Education
Cabinet 11: History of Medicine (professional, diseases, wellness)
Cabinet 12: Reference Works (handbooks, dictionaries, materia medica guides)
Cabinet 13: Red Cross (history, first-aid, and home care); Wartime Nursing
Cabinet 15: Institutional Histories (e.g., schools of nursing, nursing professional organizations and honor societies)
Cabinet 16: Historiographical References; Surveys of Nursing History
Cabinet 17: Surveys of Nursing History (textbooks)
Cabinet 18: Back Issues of Nursing History Review (published by the American Association for the History of Nursing); Surveys of Nursing History (Goodnow’s and Dolan’s)
The Herrmann Reading Room is secured but faculty can access it using their ID cards. Items in the collection do not circulate and should not be removed from the reading room, which is equipped with a spacious glass-topped table and Connecticut Hitchcock chairs donated by alumni.
Recently a UConn doctoral student in history, Mike Limberg, reached out to the Dolan Collection for archival materials related to his dissertation. He is working on a section of his dissertation that focuses on the evolution of American medical education at the American University of Beirut during the 1920s and 1930s. His major advisor is Frank Costigliola, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor, whose expertise is in twentieth-century U.S. foreign relations.
Limberg’s dissertation focuses on the efforts of a network of U.S. missionaries, philanthropists, and diplomats to encourage economic and social development in Turkey, Lebanon, and Palestine during the 1920s and 1930s. Americans working on these projects both cooperated and fought with nationalist politicians, religious reformers, and colonial officials, and these interactions reshaped their ideas of what modernity or progress could be.
In the course of his archival research Limberg stumbled across the connection between Carolyn Ladd Widmer and the American University of Beirut, which prompted him to seek out the Dolan Collection. Prior to inaugurating the UConn School of Nursing, Widmer had directed the School of Nursing at the American University of Beirut, introducing a five-year baccalaureate program there in 1936.
Limberg has found references to Widmer in materials from the Rockefeller Foundation. Some of those references came from Mary Beard’s diaries when she was an officer in the International Health Division and connected to many public health nursing programs in the United States.
Others were in the Rockefeller Foundation’s general records in its country files for Lebanon, RG 1.1, Series 833.
Mike Limberg has consulted with Dolan Collection Curator Dr. Thomas Lawrence Long, who has also sought out Dean Widmer’s two sons, Mike and Eric, for background information. Although UConn’s Archives and Special Collections have little documentary material from Dean Widmer’s career prior to arriving in Connecticut, Dr. Long hopes to identify some sources in the Josephine Dolan papers.
Jo Dolan’s and founding dean Carolyn Ladd Widmer’s long-standing commitment to grounding students’ clinical expertise in the knowledge of nursing’s history has been embedded in the curriculum from its inception, with a survey of nursing history. Once taught as a first-year nursing history and theory course, today it is placed as one of the capstone courses in seniors’ final semester.
But how to make the Dolan Collection accessible in a guided, directed way, especially to undergraduates?
Associate Professor in Residence Thomas Lawrence Long, curator of the Dolan Collection and instructor of the nursing history course (Nursing’s Past as Prologue) met that challenge during the spring 2016 term by assigning each student an artifact, document, photograph or other ephemera from the collection, both items stored in Storrs Hall and those in the University’s Archives and Special Collections.
Early in the semester, students spent one class session examining the object assigned to them using a rubric developed by the American Studies Association Material Culture Caucus, Twenty Questions to Ask an Object.
In addition to seeking answers to questions about nursing’s material culture, students were also prepared to search relevant published literature related to those objects, conducted by Valori Banfi, nursing librarian.
All of this data collection was preliminary to each student writing a blog post on the object assigned to them, which they submitted for a grade.
In the months to come, you will be able to read the product of their work, with two blog posts per week published here.